Here's FXDB's interview with Robbie Spears of Juliet Collective.
Juliet Collective is run by Robbie Spears with the help of some guitarists and electronic geeks. The company is located in Mississippi, USA.
I started after breaking my neck in 2000. I played guitar for 7 years before that. I snapped c7 and the nerve damage made it impossible to play guitar. I was stuck at my grandparents house, in a halo, needing something to do for therapy. I had been interested in electronics for quite a while and had some money from graduation. I decided to spend all of it at Radio Shack. My grandparents had unfettered access to the internet and I spent near about every waking moment on AMZfx, Geofex, and Aron's DIY stompboxes forum.
After my arms getting better, I went off with a band for about 6 years. During the time I would fix and build gear throughout. Eventually, I wound up back in school doing electronics. Around 2009, I decided to start really focusing on my own designs and started using the name for stuff I felt were solid designs.
A lot of people inspired and helped me. There's a guy that I guarantee anyone who builds, knows. RG Keen runs Geofx and is a genius poster on DIY Stompboxes. I did 5 years in EE and learned more from his writing than I have anywhere. Aron Nelson, who runs DIY Stompboxes, needs big ups. Mark Hammer, a poster there, needs them, as well. There's so much information there and if you're going out to make your own stuff, it's important to understand what's already been done. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel and there's no black magic. I think I arrived at my semi-intuitive understanding of electronics from these people.
There are people outside of the internet who have really helped also. Martin Jue and Granville Barker are electronic entrepreneurs here that really took me under their wing to help understand the crazy world that is running your own business. Gerald Nelson, at MSU, helped me with everything to get this off the ground. And a guy named Joe Jordan has helped me with a little bit of everything. He's an awesome guitarist and a professor in Industrial Engineering. He's helped me shape up everything.
I've come to respect a lot of builders also. Catalinbread is awesome, Earthquaker Devices is freaking sweet, Spaceman Effects is cool. They seem to share a lot of the same ethos we do. Dan Snazzle at Snazzy FX is doing some really wild and beautiful things there too. All seem to be nice guys from what I've taken.
The bass player in my band wanted me to build him an amplifier. There was a certain part of a certain song that I would always scream, "JUULLIIETT" and he asked for me to name it Juliet. Once I started really focusing on making new stuff, I copped that. The Collective part comes from my want to have the best people designing things here. Part of that is pretty free reign and allowing people to realize they're not just a cog in a machine, their finger-prints are actually on what they build. I want to find people who are my equal, or better than me, and not have them feel that this is just a job. My vision for this is really a collective of the best people putting out things that interest them.
There's a few things I want to go back in time and change. One of those things is the importance of craftsmanship. My friend, Eric Abbott, is one of the best designers I have ever met. He took it on himself to hand make our new logos. I wanted to reach back and have something reminiscent of an earlier time, and I think he did it beautifully.
What sets Juliet Collective apart from other builders?
There are a TON of good companies out there. The ones I really like are the ones that don't feel scared because someone else is making pedals now. They're confident in their place in this 'world.' There are some that put a Big Muff in a box and tell you it's something different and they're the type that get all defensive over territory. We're not the only ones offering something different but we are offering something different. We go after pedal/amp building like a luthier would guitar building. We're in constant movement because we're really trying to learn and hone our craft. We might not be the best pedal builders to walk the earth but that's what we aspire to. This isn't a get-rich scheme for us. Near about every waking moment involves something tone/pedal related.
How do you start on a new pedal?
Every pedal starts of with a sound. Something will strike me in a recording, my mind, or elsewhere and I will go about trying to recreate it. Sometimes it veers if something more interesting comes about through the prototyping but that's where it starts. During the prototype stage, a general feel usually pops up and that's what inspires the artwork. It could be a book I'm reading or a song that the title invokes a certain idea. I have a lot of stuff going concurrently but from idea to complete product, usually it takes about 2 months.
How do you name your pedals?
I always throw in little stuff to try and convey our personalities.
Set Adrift on Memory Bliss is a PM Dawn song I was listening to around time to bring all of the aspects together for the pedal. I loved the name and it kind of invoked a good/bad nostalgic trip that I tried to emulate with the artwork.
This Kingdom by the Sea is from a line in "Annabel Lee" by Poe. Poe is probably my favorite author and I was trying to find a way to tie the 'beautiful girl' aesthetic with something gnarly and dark to go with the feel of the pedal.
Circadia is just something we came up with to express the dream like character of the pedal. "Rhythmic Dream Machine" sucked so we went with a play on circadian.
CrashOverride is from the movie "Hackers." I was watching it after years of not having seen it. It's bad in such a good way(or good in such a bad way). I thought the future was going to be like that and everything they said in it was true. Watching it again provided a lot of laughs and contemplation. I wanted something that invoked a car wreck because of how loud it is and thought it was a good side note.
RainbowCrash is what we built after hearing so much about how the Override needed a volume. The RainbowCrash has the best of both worlds. I believe even at full volume, having a volume pot there diminishes the bite some. BUT, it's not as useful to have a pedal that just does what it wants to. So we put in an output volume that can be completely removed from the circuit if you want stock override sound or you can 'neuter' it a bit with the other setting. We needed a name that showed it was a progression from the CrashOverride and our resident 'Brony' had the idea to tribute a my little pony character. I thought it was genius.
Everything's done in-house. We have 3 part-time builders and a guy that does nothing but enclosures.
The circuits are handwired on stripboard. The enclosures are milled by a partner and hand welded aluminum. We paint them using automotive spray and clear coat.
How important is the look of your pedals?
It's very important. Part of trying to get the best at something is knowing how to do every aspect. We take scrap aluminum and some components and make a wonderful product. I think it helps show that we're not trying to be someone else. The only thing I watch for is that it never becomes our gimmick. I want them to be visually stunning but not at the expense of any other aspect.
Is parts selection important?
I've found a few places that I trust. I'm not adverse to trying something out but if it doesn't work well, it goes in my junk box. I have 400 jacks that were supposed to be switchcraft, they weren't. Just beware of deals on eBay that sound too good to be true. I use them for prototypes and test gear I build in the shop but there's no way they'll find their way onto a product. If cost isn't prohibitively different, I prefer to buy from places like Small Bear Electronics instead of Mouser or Digikey because they do awesome things for the guys who are first starting out and they're geared for pedals. I'll pay a little more, if I have to, to know that I can depend on somewhere to get it to me in time and to have someone to talk to if something does go wrong with the order.
Which of your pedals makes you most proud?
The Circadia is absolutely the hardest to explain what it does without listening to that but that was the pedal that came about from me deciding to do this. I've never sold a clone of something but I've built a lot. When I decided to have a go, I wanted it to not just be a "me-too" and throw something out there just to get money. Everything had to be unique but functional and I put a lot of time into crafting that. Everything we do now stems from that initial work of trying to actually create something instead of just repackaging something that's been around for decades.
Which of your pedals was your toughest build?
The Set Adrift. It's a modulated delay with a wand that can change all kinds of parameters from your hand. There's just a LOT to do to even make a delay chip work, much less sculpting the tone you want coming from it.
Which of your pedals is the most popular?
This Kingdom by the Sea is a fuzz/distortion that kills. It has more mids than most fuzzes but it's balls out. The thing transfers well when you try to record with it and you can get some really meaty guitar with it. When my partner, Tony Pasko, put it on his record, he was able to get some of the magical Gish (said without permission) tone without having to put layer on layer of different guitar. It really is a fun pedal.
We try to make new sounds. We haven't been around long enough to really know where our 'home' is but we're really trying hard to offer something that's not out there yet. I hope to have at least something for everyone.
What does the future of Juliet Collective look like?
We do everything by hand. Stripboard electronics to hand welded aluminum enclosures. We're working really hard on getting that quicker without sacrificing quality.
Are you working on any new products?
Being from Mississippi, I have to put out a blues pedal. Growing up here, it's something ingrained in you. Maybe just the feel or the living conditions but there's something tangible while you're here. We're almost ready with it. I know there are ways that blues pedals are 'supposed' to sound but there are sooooooo many tones that really should be explored. From the clean BB King stuff all the way to the later Buddy Guy stuff, this pedal will run the gamut.